Chapter 6: The Taittiriya Upanishad
Until now, we have been passing through the foundational doctrine of the Upanishads—namely, the nature of the Ultimate Reality. What is there, finally? In several ways we have been told that whatever is there, finally, can be only a single Reality and it cannot be more than one. This concept was corroborated by a famous mantra that I quoted from the Rig Veda Samhita—ekam sat: “Existence is one only.” The Ultimate Being is Existence. Being and Existence mean the same thing. That which exists cannot be more than one.
Everything has to exist, in some form or the other. Trees exist, stones exist, you exist, I exist, mountains exist, stars exist—all things exist. Existence is a common factor underlying every modification thereof as name and form. Whatever be the variety that is perceivable, all this variety is, at its root, an existence of something. Something has to exist, whatever that something be. The Real cannot be non-existent, because even the concept of non-existence would be impossible unless it is related to the existence of the concept itself. So the Upanishads say: “This Existence is supreme, complete, universal, all-pervading, the only Being.” Because It is all-pervading and filling all space, very large in its extent, it is called Brahman. That which fills, That which swells, That which expands, That which is everywhere and is all things—That is the plenum, the completeness, the fullness of Reality; and That is called Brahman in the Sanskrit language. Brahma-vid apnoti param (Tait. 2.1.1), says the Taittiriya Upanishad: “Whoever realises this Brahman attains to the Supreme Felicity.” It is so because of the fact that when anyone contacts Pure Existence, that contact is equal to the contact of all things. It is like touching the very bottom of the sea of Reality. Hence, Brahman is All-Existence. The knowing of it is of paramount importance.
The Upanishads highlight various ways and means of attaining this Supreme Brahman. The principal method prescribed is direct inward communion with that Reality. Direct inward communion is called meditation. Deep thought, profound thinking and a fundamental, basic feeling for it— longing for it, and getting oneself convinced about one's non-difference from it because of its being All-Existence—is the great meditational technique of the Upanishads. Inasmuch as this meditation is nothing but the affirmation of the knowledge of the universal existence of Brahman, it is also called jnana, the path of wisdom. The meditation of the Upanishads is the affirmation of the wisdom of the nature of Brahman. Whoever knows this Brahman attains the Supreme Being. Brahma-vid apnoti param, tad eshabhyukta, satyam jnanam anantam brahma (Tait. 2.1.1). How do we define this Brahman? Satyam jnanam anantam: This is the name of the Supreme Being. It is Pure Existence, satyam, Ultimate Truth. It is Omniscience, All-Knowledge, so it is called jnanam. It is everywhere, infinite; therefore, it is called anantam. What is Brahman? Satyam jnanam anantam brahma.
Yo veda nihitam guhayam parame vyoman so'snute sarvan kaman saha brahmana vipascita (Tait. 2.1.1). This is an oracle in the second section of the Taittiriya Upanishad which gives us the secret of the final attainment of bliss and freedom. This satyam jnanam anantam brahma, this Supreme Truth-Knowledge-Bliss-Infinity is, of course, as has been mentioned before, everywhere. It is also hidden deeply in the cave of your own heart—nihitam guhayam. Guha is the cave, the deepest recess of your own being. That is verily this Ultimate Being. You have to be very cautious in not allowing this thought to slip out at any time—namely, your deepest recess of existence cannot be outside the deepest recess of the cosmos. The all-encompassing nature of Brahman also envelops your basic being.
When this universal Brahman is conceived as the deepest reality of an individual, it is called the Atman—the essential Self of anything. It is the essential Self and not the physical, not the mental, not even the causal sheath of your personality; all of these, as you know very well, get negated in another condition of your being—namely, deep sleep. The analysis of deep sleep is a master key to open the gates of the secret of your own existence. Neither the body, nor the mind, nor this so-called ignorant sheath can be considered as your own reality. Blissful sleep cannot be a condition of ignorance, because the experience of bliss has to go together with a kind of consciousness of that experience. This essential Being of yours indicates the character of the Universal Reality also. It is a sense of freedom and bliss that you enjoy when you come in contact with It. Do you not feel free and happy when you go into a state of deep sleep? Can the freedom and the happiness of sleep be compared with any other pleasure of this world? Even a king who cannot sleep for days together would ask for the boon of being able to sleep for some days, rather than having a vast, material kingdom. To go into your own Self is the best achievement, the highest attainment, whereas to go outside yourself, however far beyond you may go, is that much the worse for you. Knowledge of the Self is knowledge of the Absolute. Atma-jnana is also Brahma-jnana. The knowledge of the deepest in you is also the knowledge of the essential secret of the universe. So, whoever knows that supreme satyam jnanam anantam, Truth-Knowledge-Infinity, as hidden in the cave of one's own heart, directly comes in contact with that satyam jnanam anantam brahma. Simultaneously, you begin to feel a bliss of contact with all things. Saha brahmana vipascita so'nute sarvan kaman: “All desires get fulfilled there in an instant.”
In this world, to fulfil different desires, you have to employ different means. There, a single means is enough to give you the happiness of everything—not one thing after the other, successively, but simultaneously, instantaneously. In your current state, if you have one pleasure, you cannot have another pleasure at the same time, and if you want to have a third kind of pleasure, the first two must go. Thus, you cannot have varieties of pleasure at the same time because of the conditioning factor introduced by the sense organs in such experience. Your senses do not give you simultaneous knowledge of anything. When one thing is happening, another thing is forgotten. But in the contact of Brahman, there is simultaneous knowledge of all things. At one stroke everything is known, and everything is enjoyed also. It is impossible for us mortals, thinking through the sense organs and through this body, to imagine what it could be to enjoy all things at the same time.
It is not merely possessing a kingdom; that also may look like a happiness which is sudden and simultaneous. A king who is the ruler of this whole world may imagine that he has simultaneous happiness of the entire kingdom of the earth. “The entire earth is mine,” the king may feel. But the entire earth stands outside the king. The experiencing consciousness of the king does not hold under his grip or possession this vast earth that he considers as the means of his satisfaction. So the king's happiness is a futile, imaginary pleasure; really, he does not possess the world. The world stands outside. If the object of experience stands outside the experience, the experience cannot be regarded as complete. Unless the object of experience enters into you and becomes part and parcel of your own existence, you will not be able to enjoy that object. All objects cause anxiety in the mind because they stand outside the experiencing consciousness. Even if you have a heap of gold in the grip of your palm, it cannot cause you happiness. It will only cause anxieties of different types—such as how to keep it, how to use it, how to protect it, how not to lose it, and how to see that it is not leading you to bereavement. The possessor of gold and silver is filled with anxieties, and that person cannot sleep well. Even a king cannot sleep well because of the fear of attack from sources that are external to him. To be secure under conditions which are totally external to yourself is hard, indeed, to imagine.
Brahman experience is not an object of contact; it is an identity. The object is the experiencing consciousness itself. The content of awareness becomes the awareness; existence and consciousness merge into each other. Sat becomes chit, chit becomes sat. It is not actually one thing becoming another thing; the one thing is the other thing. Existence is nothing but the consciousness of existence. When you say that you exist, you are at the same time affirming that you are conscious that you exist. You are not merely existing, minus the consciousness of existence. It is not an appendage that is added on to existence in the form of consciousness. Consciousness is not a quality or an attribute of existence, like the greenness of a leaf or the redness of a flower—nothing of the kind. You cannot consider consciousness to be connected to existence; it is existence. Actually, existence-consciousness means consciousness which is—or existence which is aware of its existence. In that state, which is called Brahman-knowledge or Brahman-experience, there is simultaneous experience of all things. There is all-existence, a simultaneous knowledge of all things—omniscience, a simultaneous taneous enjoyment of all things, and perfect freedom. It is perfect freedom because there is nothing to obstruct your freedom in that state. Here, in this world, whatever freedom you may have is limited by the existence of other things in this world. Your freedom is limited by the freedom of another person and, therefore, your freedom is limited to that extent. You cannot have unlimited freedom in this world. But That (Brahman) is unlimited freedom. It is unlimited because anantam brahma: “Infinite is Brahman.”
Now you have, as students of this great doctrine of the Upanishads, questions of various types: “What is this world? We understand what you are saying. Now, what is this world that we are seeing in front of us? How are we to reconcile this perceived world with that Great Thing that you are speaking of?” The cosmological scheme that follows in the very same Upanishad after this statement about the absoluteness of Brahman gives us a brief idea as to how we have to set in harmony the nature of this perceived world with the eternal existence of Brahman.
Tasmat va etasmat atmana akasas sambhutah (Tait. 2.1.1): “From this Universal Atman, space emanated”—as it were. This is something hard for us to conceive at the present moment. Space is actually the negation of the infinity of Brahman. Infinity does not mean extension or dimension—but space is extension, dimension, distance. So, immediately a contradiction is introduced at the very beginning of the concept of creation. God is negated, as it were, for various reasons, the moment creation is conceived, one reason being that the creation appears as an external manifestation, whereas God—Brahman—is the Universal Existence. We know the difference between universality and externality. The moment there is the concept of space, there is also automatically introduced into it the concept of time. We cannot separate space and time. Duration and extension go together. Actually, according to modern findings at least, space and time are not dead appearances, lifeless presentations before us. For us, to our common perception, spatial extension may look like a lifeless dimension which does not speak, which does not think, which has nothing to say. Time also seems to be some kind of movement which has no brain to think; it is like a machine moving like a bulldozer in some direction. This is what we may think with our paltry, inadequate knowledge of what space and time are. Space and time are not dead things; they are basic vibrations of the cosmos. Motion goes together with space-time. Not only according to modern scientific terminology, but also in the ancient thought of the Agama and Tantra, one may say that the concept of space-time goes together with motion, force.
A tremendous vibration, an uncanny force is generated the moment there is the beginning of what we call creation. It is a central point that begins to vibrate—bindu, as it is called in the Agama Shastra. Bindu is a point. It is not a point which is geometrical, which has a nucleus; it is a cosmic point, a centre which is everywhere with a circumference nowhere, as people generally say. It is a point that is everywhere, which is inconceivable to ordinary thought. It is a tremendous vibratory centre. Modern astronomy also seems to be hinging on this point when it concludes there was a Big Bang when creation took place—a splitting of the cosmic atom. The atom should not be considered as a little particle; it is a cosmic centre. The entire space-time arrangement is one point, like an egg—brahmanda, as it is called. A globular structure is easy to conceive, and so we call it an ‘anda', a kind of egg—a cosmic egg. Tadandam abhavat haimam sahasramsh samaprabham (Manu 1.9) says the Manusmriti: “Even millions of suns cannot be equal in brilliance to that cosmic spot.” Therefore, it is not a point as we can geometrically imagine. It is an inconceivable point.
The Universal cannot be thought by the mind and, therefore, that cosmic point also cannot be really thought of. Astronomers call it the cosmic atom. But the word ‘atom' has such peculiar suggestiveness to our thinking mind that often we are likely to slip into the thought of it being a little, small thing. The smallness and the bigness question does not arise there. In that condition, we cannot say what is small and what is big. “Who is a tall man?” If I ask you this, whom will you bring? “Bring a short man.” These are all relative terms. In comparison with a tall man, someone may look short, etc. So there is no such thing as a tall man or a short man, a long shirt or a short shirt; they are comparative words. So, too, we cannot say what kind of atom it was. Therefore, they call it brahmanda; and it split, we are told, into two halves. What kind of halves they are is not very clear. The subject and the object, can we say? The Cosmic Subject and the Cosmic Object can be two halves of the cosmic egg—or we may say it is the Cosmic Awareness meeting with the Cosmic Object, which is material in its nature. The materiality of the object follows automatically from its segregation from the perceiving consciousness. The concept of matter also has to be very carefully noted. Here, in this condition, ‘matter' actually means a hard stone or granite or a brick; it is also a vibration. The Samkhya definition of prakriti, in its highest condition, is not in the form of a solid object but a vibratory condition of a tripartite nature—sattva, rajas and tamas. Certain Upanishads analogically tell us that these two halves of the cosmic egg are something like the two halves of a split pea. The pea is one whole, but it has two halves.
Everything in the world has a subjective side and an objective side. I conceive of myself as a subject and, for some other reason, I also conceive of myself as an object. The impact that is produced upon me by conditions that are not me may make me feel that I am an object, but the impact that I produce on the external conditions may make me feel that I am a subject. That which exists outside my perceiving consciousness may make me conceive of myself as a subject of perception, but the presence of such an object for itself will appear as an object. This dualism, cosmically introduced at the very beginning of things, is the subject of all the religious doctrines of creation, wherever one may go in this world. God created the world, somehow. This ‘somehow' brings in this peculiarity of the externalisation of God's Universality. “The Supreme Purusha sacrificed Himself as this cosmos,” says the Purusha Sukta. The supreme alienation of the Universal into the supreme externality is called creation. God alienated Himself, as it were, in the form of this large, vast, perceived world. He has become this vast world. I mentioned to you previously the difficulty arising out of using such words as ‘becoming', ‘transforming', etc. I will not go into that subject once again. These words have to be understood in their proper connotation and signification.
Tasmat va etasmat atmana akasas sambhutah (Tait. 2.1.1): This fundamental cosmic space-time-motion, or vibration, became more and more gross in the form of wind—vayu. Actually, the word ‘vayu' used here should not be taken in the sense of what we breathe through the nostrils. It is, again, a vibration of a vital nature, which we call prana. An energy manifested itself; cosmic energy emanated, as it were, from this basic vibratory centre which is the space-time-motion complex, to put it in a modern, intelligible style. The solidification, condensation and more and more externalisation of the preceding one in the succeeding stage is actually the process of the coming of what is called the elements. From space, or akasha, arose vayu; from vayu, or air, came friction—heat, or fire; from there came the liquefied form, water; and then came the solid form of the earth.
Tasmad va etasmad atmana akasa sambhuta, akasad vayuh, vayor agnih, agner apah, adbhyah prthivi, prthivya osadhayah (Tait. 2.1.1): “All vegetation started from the earth.” Osadhibhyo annam: The diet that we consume is nothing but the vegetation growing on earth. Annat purushah: Our personality is an adumbration, solidification, concretisation, clarification—whatever we may call it—of the food that we eat. In the personality of the human being we find in a miniature form all that has come cosmically down to the earth, right from the Supreme Brahman—satyam jnanam anantam brahma. So the universe is called brahmanda and the individual is called pindanda. The macrocosm is the universe, and the microcosm, or the individual, is a cross-section of the macrocosm. All that is in the universe you will find in yourself. You are a miniature of creation. If you know yourself, you know the whole world. This is why it is said, “Know thyself and be free.” Nobody says “Go outside and know things.” It will not serve your purpose. Know yourself and all things are known, because you are the nearest thing that can be contacted and the nearest thing containing all things that are the furthest and the remotest. Therefore, the Ultimate Reality is also called the nearest and the furthest. Tad dure tad vad antike (Isa 5): “Very far is It”—in terms of the spatio-temporal expanse of creation; “Very near is It”—as the Self of your own existence.
The miniature individual, as I mentioned, has all the layers of the universe. These are the physicality of the lowest earth, the vibratory form of the prana, the mental creation or the mentation, the power of thought, which is reflected in the process of creation from the Ultimate Being Itself, and a peculiar negation that we experience in our own self in the form of the ultimate causality of sleep, which is comparable to the negation that was referred to just now in the form of the manifestation of space-time-motion. This individualised microcosmic representation of the cosmic layers is seen individually as a series of what is called the koshas, or the coverings of the consciousness in us. We may, in a way, say the whole universe is a covering up over Brahman.
The cosmic sheaths can be conceived, and they are really conceived many a time when we speak of Brahman becoming Ishvara, Ishvara becoming Hiranyagarbha, Hiranyagarbha becoming Virat, and so on. These sheaths in us—the physical, vital, mental, intellectual and causal—are the inverted forms of the otherwise-vertical, we may say, forms of the cosmic sheaths which are in the form of the five elements—earth, water, fire, air and ether, going upwards from below. The Ultimate satyam jnanam anantam is negated, as it were, in this creation, because the Universal Being is absent in all that is external. The word ‘external' contradicts anything that can be considered as universal. In a way, God is denied in this world. We cannot see God anywhere; we see only particulars and spread-out things which are external in nature. Nevertheless, as the Isavasya Upanishad warns us, the so-called negated, abolished existence of the Supreme Reality is also hiddenly present as the Atman behind the earth, the Atman behind water, fire, air and ether. There is an Atman even behind space and time. Various degrees of the manifestation of universality can be seen in the operation of the five elements. The Universal is least manifest in the earth, more manifest in water, still more in fire, still more in air and still more in space, so that space looks almost universal, but yet it is not universal because it is externalised.
In a similar manner, in our own personality also, there is a degree of the manifestation of externality and materiality. The physical body is the most material and the most external, visible thing among other things. Very hard substance is this physical body and very external; we can see it with the eyes. The internal externalities are not so easily contactable, but yet are conceivable and observable through analysis. The so-called physicality and externality of the body is made to feel its existence, its very life itself, by the movement of a vibration inside, called prana shakti. When the prana operates through the cells of the body, we feel that the body is alive; every little fingertip, every toe is alive. It is alive, so-called, because of the prana pervading every part of the body. If the prana is withdrawn, there is paralytic stroke or even death of that particular part. If the prana is entirely withdrawn, the so-called living body becomes a corpse. It becomes dead matter—matter per se.
So our individuality, as a symbol of conscious existence, is a contribution; it comes from the prana, the vital energy that is operating within this body. But the prana is operating because of the thoughts of the mind. We can direct the prana, or the energy, in different directions by the concentration of thought of the mind. If the mind thinks only of one particular thing, the pranic energy is directed to that particular thing only. Little children look beautiful because of the equal distribution of pranic energy in their bodies. They do not have sensory desires projected through any particular organ. As the child grows and grows, he becomes less beautiful to look at because the senses begin to appropriate much of the pranic energy for their own individual operation. The senses become more and more active when we grow into adults or old men. But a little child is beautiful. Whether it is a king's child or a beggar's child, one cannot make a distinction; little children are so nice!
Therefore, the prana enlivens this body, but is itself conditioned by the thoughts of the mind, and the mind is a name that we give to an indeterminate way of thinking. “Something is there.” When we feel that something is there, but we do not actually know what is there, we are just indeterminately thinking. But when we are sure that something of a specific type is there—“Oh, I see. It is a tree. It is a lamppost. It is a human being”—this determined identification of the nature of a thing which was indeterminately thought by the mind is the work of the intellect, reason, or buddhi, as it is called. These layers are very clear now: the physical, the vital, the mental and the intellectual.
There is another thing that is totally indeterminate, and that is the condition of our experiences in deep sleep. It is a potential of all future experience and a repository of all past experiences. It clouds consciousness to such an extent that in deep sleep, when it is preponderating, we cannot even think. Thus, in this individuality of ours, in this microcosm that we are, there is a miniature representation of the cosmic creative process. As the peels of the onion constitute the onion, so these sheaths constitute our personality and even the cosmic creative process.
This is, briefly, what I can tell you about the essential teaching of one of the sections of the Taittiriya Upanishad, which tells us three things. The first teaching is that the Ultimate Reality is Existence-Knowledge-Bliss, and it is hidden in the cave of the heart of every individual—knowing which, one becomes all things and enjoys perfect freedom and bliss. The second teaching is that all things that we call the universal manifestation emanate from this Supreme Being only. The third teaching is that we, as individuals, are also part and parcel of this creation and we have in us a miniature representation of everything that is manifest cosmically. For the time being, this is enough for you as far as the Taittiriya Upanishad is concerned.
The Mandukya Upanishad goes deeper into this teaching of the Taittiriya Upanishad by an analysis of the states of consciousness that seem to be involved in the categorisation of the sheaths. The involvement of the basic Atman-consciousness in us, in the sheaths—gradationally—becomes experience, which is waking, dreaming and deep sleep—jagrat, swapna and sushupti.